Thursday, January 29, 2009

Costa Rica - Day 7

In the breakfast line, I could feel my stomach churning because of the greasy smelling food. Even juice repulsed me. I knew I should eat because I haven’t for three days, but I just couldn’t find it in me. The drive later would be long, and I am not about to spend four hours in the car feeling ill again.

Strangely, I look forward to being driven through the rain forest on my way to the next destination. It really gives me a sense of the town and the culture. This day, like most we have spent here in Costa Rica, it is raining with a chance of meatballs. Thick clouds swirl around the summit of one of the mountains we cross, making it difficult to see. But it adds to magic of the misty rainforest. Ten feet from the side of our van, is a jungle ravine that plunges straight down. Inches from our wheels, there is a drainage run-off area that is nearly three feet wide and just as deep. The road switches left, then right and then left again. All the while, aggressive drivers pass on blind curves and double yellow lines. Our own van is too close for comfort to the next car in line. I can barely read the next license plate number from my position in the middle seat. Giving in to the fact that this is third world driving, in a foreign county, I decide it’s best not to tell the diver how I think he should be driving. I just kept my eyes on the road. Seconds later it all turned to shit. Two car spaces ahead of us a jeep misjudged the power of the wet road. They tried to correct and that only got them in more trouble. The passenger wheel grabbed the edge of the drainage ditch and started to pull the jeep in. Just like it was rehearsed, the back wheel left the ground and the underside of the rental car was visible. The three tires I could see- all in the air, where all spinning. As the jeep continued to go over, glass sprayed across the road and the top crunched in like a coke can. The jeep finally came to a rest, perpendicular to the road and upside-down in the ditch. I could see luggage tossed about, looking like linen in the dryer. Another car about ten behind us skidded in to the drainage area after it came around a blind curve. The eight or so of us in the van were dazed and grateful for our own safety. Watching the car to see if any emerges, I bravely claim, “what if they’re hurt, we need to help them!” All us snapped out of the daze and went for the door. In the second between getting out of the car and looking up again, someone else was already reaching their arms into the overturned jeep. Out came a woman looking more concerned about what was still in the car more then her own life. Our driver then shouts in Spanish to get back in the van, and close the door. A man is now being pulled from a broken window. He has blood on his arm from the glass, but looks mostly ok and undamaged. With us safely back in the car, the driver starts to direct traffic around a blind corner while others direct around the other blind corner behind us. Minutes ago at the summit, I saw a yellow emergency truck that looked like it could go any where and tow any thing. I thought it was odd to be parked at the summit waiting for something to happen. But this is their turf, not mine. They know that when the clouds touch the ground and the roads are wet, people are at the mercy of the rainforest. It would only take a few minutes for word to get around the corner. Drivers eager to get to where ever they are going, start weaving around parked cars and over shoulders that don’t exist. Other drivers start to pass each other and there is now two lanes of cars honking in both directions on a lane that barely contained two single lanes of order. The flashing lights of the truck on steroids crept around the corner. With traffic going every which way the road was impassable. Grabbing their gear, the crew ran to the jeep and starting assessing the situation. Being that we were at the front of the traffic jam, the driver started the van and left the tourist in better hands.
Arriving in San Jose still shaken from the accident, we decided it was best to go to our rooms for a while before dinner. The city was dirty and dark with a creepy vibe even though the sun was still up. Our room couldn’t be more opposite to the city. With a double sized Jacuzzi tub as the main feature of the room, white linens over a king sized bed and décor that felt like it was out of a magazine, I felt like I had found a retreat from all the adventure.

Costa Rica - Day 6

Stepping out of the hotel and looking left, I saw nothing but black sand, blue water and swaying palms. I looked right and was tickled to see more of the same. Straight ahead, only two shades of blue- one for the Pacific Ocean and one for the sky. The sun was hot and ocean wasn’t far behind. Locals have warned us that the rip tide is worst here in front of our hotel and that we should walk down the beach a few hundred meters.

Janie and Ty have rented boogie-boards to help us pass the time. It’s been a long time since I felt the glee of being a child, but being pushed along the shore with sand in my suit and sun on my back, I felt like I had finally gotten that pony I had been asking for. My smile only faded long enough to spit out the salty and sometimes sandy water. My amigos share this joy, as we trade taking turns on the boards for napping on the beach.

Still unable to eat solid food, we ordered a fresh coconut. At least the juice would give me a little blood sugar. The coconut slinging team said it would cost about 500 colones or about $1 USD. We handed them a 10,000 colones bill and the guy without the machete said he would be right back with cambio or change. Change never came and we were out about $20- our only cash on the beach without going back the hotel. Broke, tired and nowhere to go, I decided to just to nap and people watch until my last turn on the boogie board. Being on a beautiful beach in Costa Rica: $2,000, drinking a coconut: $1, getting ripped off by the dude selling something that grows on every tree around: priceless.

In the water, my skin stung as if I had been slapped with something. Around my feet and belly felt like they were on fire. Getting out to return the boards, I noticed the first sign that I was finally on vacation. I had forgotten my sun screen applying techniques, and applied while wearing clothes. So now my clothes mostly off, I looked like a white and red candy-cane thing of a human. Some how, since I have traveled last, I have gone from being an experienced world traveler to being a first timer gringo. I have the clear stamps across my belly and feet, an empty wallet and still a touch a bad chicken to prove it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Costa Rica - Day 5

At breakfast, the world wasn’t quite straight. I didn’t have the strength to figure it out, but something was to one side of normal. Twisting and turning as we climbed out of the rainforest on our way to Jaco, it finally became very clear what was wrong. At first it was small waves of nausea with a sour tummy. Then it was absolutely something I had to deal with, NOW! So much for living like the locals- and eating their food… Maybe if I just keep my eyes on the ground, I’ll make it to the beach and then I’ll be ready to concur the world again. The road bends sharply to the right, and left. The driver then hits the gas to pass only to jerk the van back into the beach going lane. My eyes feel like they are floating on my lunch from the day before. Turning on the ac and sipping on my filtered water seem to ease the feelings for a few minutes. Christian, the driver informs me that because of construction, the drive is going to be 4 hours instead of two and half. That’s when I knew I was hosed. More sharp curves and passing on blind corners with steep gorges to one side or the other. I can only hope no one else can tell that I was white and clammy with my breakfast about ready for it’s encore.

Later at the beach I was in no condition to be in the sun, playing in the undulating water. I retreated to the hotel, while my amigos partied forward. I heard tales of beer, sunscreen and dancing into the night. So much for trying to experience local life.

Costa Rica - Day 4

We are at the top of the canopy, touching the rain before it touches the ground. The wildlife has created a cacophony for all to hear for miles. Insects give off a loud high-voltage noise, monkeys chatter, the howler monkeys have kind of a growling-hooping call, and the birds screech and whistle over each other. Most of the forest is shrouded with mysterious mist, keeping it sacred secrets. I am snapped out of my daze when I hear the tell tale clip-snap of a carabiner, and then the guide says “ok go!”. Oh dear god what have I done? I know I’m not one to pray, but maybe this is good time to start. All the sounds of the jungle are replaced by a wizzzzizzizizizizizizizzizzzzzzz and all I see is a cable going into the mist. So if there is a God, now would be the time to forgive me for whatever I might have done, PLEASE! No reply, just more wizzzizzzz. My feet are 60 meters from the ground and my end destination is concealed by this damn mist. And oh the rain… it’s just greasing this one centimeter life line that hangs from the sky. Oh God, why did I agree to this, what have I done? The tops of the canopy have released me into the sky and over a gorge, and now the 60 meters have turned uncountable. To afraid to scream, I took my chances with praying again. PLEASE, please, someone just get me off this thing, ALIVE... There is nothing, no booming voice of God, no monkey chatter, no birds, just more wizzzizizizzz- when finally I can see our guide give me the brake signal. Rob and Danny, the two that went before me are laughing with adrenaline. Well if they did ok, then maybe I just might make it, maybe my prayers were heard after all. With my feet back on the platform, I become overwhelmed with trembles. There’s only one way out of this, and that is to ride these cables all the way down to the rainforest floor. Before I can get my wits back, Alex is arriving on the platform. I have never been so happy to see someone. Just eight more lines to go and then we repel 100 feet into a waterfall ravine. Oh boy, it’s gonna be a long hour.

Horses met us in the ravine and lazily trotted up back up to the top of the canopy. Alexander and Kevin lead us to a typical Tico home where the horses are bound and given water. It is only mid-morning, but I don’t think I have an ounce of adrenaline left for more adventures. My belly is aching for food and my mind is raw from descending the canopy with less than an inch of wire and a small metal clip for a lifeline.

We are meeting our friends in town for lunch-to live like locals and relax for a while. After planning such a fabulous trip with my best friend and her boyfriend, I haven‘t really spent much time with them. We have both been going our own ways. And using up my adventure card earlier, I really think it’s something we all need.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Costa Rica - Day 3

Finally, we have a chance to explore a town and not just a forest. La Fortuna- named for being narrowly missed in the violent (Mt. St. Helens style) eruption of 1968, is a small town. I would say smaller or equal to my hometown back in California. Like most tourist driven areas, there are many shops with handy craft souvenirs, however I know better. Most of these wares are crafted in China with a large logo across the front that reads: COSTA RICA~ PURA VIDA! I bring my tourism dollar to another country in an effort to view the locals, their crafts and support a sometimes failing economy. So today the souvenirs will wait.

It is raining, but that goes with territory of a rain forest… we are well prepared to be in the rain so hopefully it will keep the crowds down. Something else is calling to me besides the shopping. Something that is almost free. La Catarata, or waterfall, of Arenal. This photo-fabulous fall is over 150 meters of water pouring from a pinpoint off a cliff into a gorge. The hike down is tough, steep and muddy but so very worth every step. The aqua colored pools below are calling my name. Unprepared without a suit, I zipped off the bottom half of my pants and walked in to about my thighs. If this wasn’t such a tourist hole, I might have unzipped everything, put the camera on the shore and went for it anyway. We then ate a very satisfying picnic lunch out in the middle of water, resting on a boulder. Accidentally, I fed a fish when I dropped a cracker crumb into the water. Calling all of his fish-friends, I soon had a school of medium sized fish dashing and swirling about our feet.

Later, we were shuttled to Baldí Hot Springs, the main competition for Tobacón a few kilometers down the road. The man-made and spring fed pools ranged from 88° F to 116° F. We found privacy at every turn. We felt as if we the only ones there. Salsa music rattled from old speakers while bartenders at three swim-up bars mixed $10.00 concoctions. Baldí is not as natural, but possibly more fun than Tobacón.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Costa Rica - Day 2

Morning always comes too early while in most places. Today the birds outside my window have awakened me before dawn. Normally this would have caused a very grumbly response, but today it brought giggles of joy. I am just outside of the rainforest, and already we are surrounded by more than twenty-five species of birds. Today is also the first day of Change… Back home our former captain Shit-head (sorry that’s his only name) has turned over his presidency to a man that can hopefully nudge this out-of-control patriarch-like system back towards democracy. History is being made as I type, in that this will be the first African-American elected president. Though, that was never even an issue here, neither a pro nor a con; we just liked his politics. Being a day for celebration, I have arranged for chilled champagne in our hotel for tonight’s arrival.

Driving from the outskirts of the San Jose area towards the Arenal volcano, I am over come with a sense of life or as the Ticos say “pura vida”. The green carpet of the land rolls on for miles. I see birds slicing the air with a touch of flirty-playfulness. Banana, coconut and papaya groves sway in the breeze. Misty mountains are shrouded with clouds and there are even a few old Jersey cows in the fields. With all this life it is hard to see what is not there. But something is missing; the trees. Miles of rainforest have been cleared and burned for raising beef. Beef being the number one export, it brings in more money than tourist that wanting to see virgin rain forests. Because of this, Alex and I have decided to boycott beef while in this amazing country. In a world of such crisis, we individuals can only hope that by making the right choices that others will follow until sustainability becomes a global movement.

Later Jorge and Tonio arrive to pick us up for a volcano hike in the afternoon. Just as we pull away from the hotel we stop to view a three-toed sloth. Within a few minutes, we paused again to view a quati- something between a lemur and a raccoon. Then while climbing a small trail behind the Arenal Volcano, we were introduced to toucans, hawks, spiders, leaf cutter ants, howler monkeys and more birds than anyone could remember all the names to, except for Jorge, our guide- he knew them all by the sounds they made. We were tested on our Costa Rican history and told many interesting trivia facts about the active volcano and surrounding land. Knowing that our hotel sits in area one- or the most dangerous part of the mountainous valley- stirs up a little uneasiness.

Our day has the perfect ending, relaxing at the world famous Tabacón Hot Springs. I thought I had found paradise earlier in the jungle so this had to be off the charts. A hot river pouring over young volcanic rock beds embraced us. Waterfalls demanded attention and respect while conjuring romance. A shallow cave behind a large waterfall stirs up the passion while the water pounded just beyond shoulders. Tobacón offers a vacation from the vacation. With is swim up bars, waterslide, acres of private river flowing nearly at 42° C and top notch food, why would anyone return back to their tour bus with sketchy AC, the loud laughing woman and the extra large guy sitting next to them eating a Big Mac?

Costa Rica - Day 1

This day has been eagerly thought about for about six months or more. At first, it was just a few friends having a drink at a local wine bar, and then it was real. This small, half hatched idea was brewed somewhere between a latte and some bubbly sake. The next morning, this idea was more than just a dream of two girls yakking, it was going to be the best trip of our lives-at least up until the next one comes. Something about it stuck and embraced our needs with something seductive.

So here it is, a well-rounded vacation to Costa Rica right here in front of us… All we have to is wait for that alarm to go off at 5:30 so we can all cram into a San Francisco taxi, dash though our very effective-government demanded, security check points and then sit for a few hours in the airport. At 2:30, three hours before all this actually happens, my brain plays out each part like the Lord of the Rings; could end a million different ways but just kept going on and on using up valuable sleeping time.

In the air, I only saw rocks out the window. I don’t know what I should have been seeing instead, but it was all desert and rocks. Plain and boring, old rocks. So, I looked around the cramped cabin to see if our stewardess, oh-sorry, flight attendant, could liven things up a bit. Her answer was more unpleasing then the rocks. Stating clearly that all adult beverages would be $7.00 USD, and exact change was preferred. So maybe that sleep I missed out on last night would be useful now, now if I could only ban babies from flying commercial flights…

After we landed, and breezed through the airport, we were whisked away to a treasure. Really a diamond in the rough, our hotel had so much character. And the owner’s took us in as if we were their children. Papa made us fresh pizzas that rivaled some that I have had in Italy, and brought cold beers. Mamma dealt a heavy warning for the Jaco and San José areas.